Spirit Journeys: The Ngukurr School of Art – An Archival Exhibition

A celebrated place of importance for both students and art lovers alike, The Ngukurr School of Art, and its trailblazing pupils, lead Beverley Knight to open Alcaston Gallery in 1989. Over 30 years later, this archival exhibition celebrates several artists from Ngukurr and the Roper River region of the Gulf of Carpentaria – Ginger Riley Munduwalawala, Willie Gudabi, Djambu Barra Barra, Wilfred Ngalandarra, Barney Ellaga, with some of the impressive exhibited works shown for the first time, in accordance with cultural protocols.

Djambu Barra Barra, Crocodile Men’s Stories, 1996, synthetic polymer paint on linen, 191 x 181cm. © The Estate of the artist. Courtesy Alcaston Gallery, Melbourne

As Tristan Harwood writes in the essay accompanying the exhibition, ‘The stories of these places are determined by cultural practices, language, ceremony, ecology and ancestral Spirits. Like the [Roper] river, stories weave webs of connection, simultaneously demarcating points of points of difference and coming-together.’ In their storytelling, Ngukurr artists draw from personal history, cultural memory, ancestral knowledge, ceremonial responsibilities and artistic influences – expressed through experimentations with colour, form and representation.

Barney Ellaga, Alawa County, 1999, synthetic polymer paint on linen, 199 x 99cm. © The Estate of the artist. Courtesy Alcaston Gallery, Melbourne

Renowned for his unique stripped application of paint, and bold use of colour and form, the late Ellaga’s works are reminiscent of the body and cave painting techniques of his Alawa people. The late Ngalandarra painted animals such as turtles, fish and snakes, stylistically redolent to the traditional marks used for body painting. Reflecting his deep interest in ceremonial life, the late Barra Barra’s works depict corroborees surrounding circumcision, and the late Gudabi’s intricately detailed, vibrant paintings can be read as traditional storytelling maps – each composition populated with events and iconography. Featured works by the late Munduwalawala, an initiated Indigenous elder and a seminal Australian artist, reflect his unique practice – utilising heroic scale in both concept and style, and distinctive images including Ngak Ngak, the totemic white-breasted sea eagle, and rain-filled clouds or bright sunshine – his creation story.

Alcaston Gallery
23 September to 10 October 2020
Melbourne